Sunday, October 24, 2004


Using humor as a means of survival, Africans can laugh at themselves as they do their daily battle. But it’s a very serious matter when it comes to their music and entertainment.

Readers of this piece will be delighted to know that Africa’s creative impulse is alive and well in Australia, as the new generation of African migrants and refugees make their presence felt throughout the land.

The new arrivals are spearheading the cultural revival movement. And John Deng, Aluong Nyandit, and Lem Ajith who joined the Paradise High School in South Australia this year are displaying great skills on the drums.

John, 14, openly admitted to the Sunday Mail reporter that he used to play the drums when he was a little boy in Kenya.

Indeed, the Africans are in a celebratory mode!

And, today, the lucky Australians, no doubt, will feel the spirit of Africa, the humor, and laughter, when the young New Age drummers perform at the Multicultural Festival to be held at Thorndon Park Reserve, Hamilton Terrace, Paradise.

Saturday, October 16, 2004


Tsige Esayas is a sweet, soft spoken, girl with a lovely smile and the
brains and beauty to match.

She was born in Eritrea 20 years ago. And spent a few years of her early life in Ethiopia, because of the unstable political situation in her home country.

By a stroke of luck, she arrived Australia in the year 2000 to begin a brand new chapter of her life - a long way away from Asmara.

And her world began to change!

“Life in Eritrea was extremely difficult for our family”, she said. “We were in constant fear for our lives…And fear of authority, violence, and destruction was never far away”.

Generally, it was the type of fear that rose and fell according to individual circumstances and the political climate in the new Republic during that time.

Meanwhile, Tsige has found some peace of mind and stability. She is doing extremely well for herself here; working and studying and generally happy to an Australian.

In fact, she appears to be quite comfortable with her new environment. And she reckons “Australia is a great nation; and a good place to live…There are lots of opportunities here”. No extremes of wealth and poverty!

One thing is certain, though: Tsige’s star is shining. She is a young woman of distinction, a great communicator who believes she has what it takes to be successful; and who injects a great deal of energy and optimism into her life with delightful results.

She has made her mark in the mainstream labor market; having worked in the retail sector ; and gained useful experience that has served her well.

Tsige enters the university next year to study financial accounting – a milestone for a young woman who came to Australia as a refugee a few short years ago. Now, she believes that studying at the university will “open doors” and improve her life chances.

Thus, behind the sweet smiles (and lady-like demeanor) lies a rock-solid determination to succeed. Tsige definitely believes her time has come.

And what does the future hold for her? Undoubtedly, Tsige wants to “work hard and be successful” and nothing will stand in her way.

But her most beautiful dream is to go back to Africa one day, and help the poor and the less fortunate ones who are still struggling for survival in the most appalling circumstances.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004


Female circumcision or female genital mutilation (FGM) is a traditional cultural practice that is evident in many countries of the world. But Australia has made the circumcision of girls illegal. And each state (and territory) has its own set of laws to combat the problem.

Recently, at the official launching of the new information kit and poster for the FGM program in South Australia, the Minister of Health, Lea Stevens, spoke eloquently about the “culturally sensitive nature of the (FGM) problem”; emphasizing the need to “educate the community about the phenomenon of female circumcision, its impact and consequences”.

Indeed, her speech was well received by the emerging African community in South Australia. And, more importantly, the educational content of the program is becoming increasingly popular with the migrant population; especially the new arrivals.

Essentially though, the FGM program has two principal aims. The first aim is to assist those women and girls in South Australia who might be at risk of being subjected to female genital mutilation.

The second aim of the program is to minimize the negative effects of FGM; especially its adverse health outcomes and the psycho-social harm experienced by victims of this age-old practice.

In this case, given the importance of the FGM debate, Australia is light years ahead of most countries in creating public awareness of the problem.

The FGM program in South Australia comes under the community development framework; focusing on capacity building and profound respect for individual rights.

For more on this topic, please read this fascinating book: The Africans in Australia, Seaview Press.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


The refugee question has continued to shape the political landscape in Australia, as the nation prepares for a federal election in a few days time.

More than 300 candidates of all political persuasions; including Labor, the Democrats and the Greens have signed the refugee guarantee pledge; vowing to support a significant policy change on the refugee issue, if elected.

Read more stories on

Monday, October 04, 2004


Australia goes to the polls on the 9th of October 2004, after a long drawn-out campaign that is full of surprises but short on specifics. The major parties, mainly of the Liberal and Labor persuasions, have remained decidedly silent on the refugee question, despite community concerns.

In fact, the situation has remained virtually unchanged throughout the election campaign, until a few days ago when Mohamed Selhab, a 37-year-old Algerian asylum seeker walked into the office of Ross Cameron, the sitting Liberal member for the Federal seat of Parramatta, and asked for mercy.

Now, as the political pendulum swings towards the sensitive issue of refugees and sylum seekers, some form of assistance is in the offing!

Mr. Selhab’s case is an interesting one, for a variety of reasons. He was freed from detention in 2000 and now facing deportation, despite the fact that his lovely Australian wife is pregnant with their third child.

The point to note is that the Liberal Member of Parliament, Mr. Cameron, who is standing for re-election, pushed the issue on top of the political agenda when he promised to look into Mr. Selhab’s case.

“I am going to write (to the Immigration Minister, Senator Amanda Vanstone) seeking a reconsideration of the case in the light of changed circumstances – namely the wife’s pregnancy”, Mr. Cameron told The Australian newspaper, to the utmost delight of the Parramatta Refugee Action Group.

Friday, October 01, 2004


The African culture is alive and well in Australia. As new migrants and refugees continue to arrive in significant numbers since the dawn of the 21st Century, African literature, language, music, art, food, and fashion have made their presence felt in multicultural Australia.

But, in recent years, certain cultural practices, such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or “female circumcision”, have come under intense scrutiny - a development some fear would criminalize the practice and eventually cause the African population to be fully assimilated into the mainstream Australian society.

The point to note, however, is that FGM occurs in more than 40 countries around the world, and more than 28 in Africa. Although there is no documented evidence that FGM is currently being practiced in Australia, it is a highly sensitive issue in the emerging African community in this country.

Nevertheless, the struggle for women’s health is a global struggle that cuts across all cultures; and is closely associated with the fundamental issue of female circumcision.

In fact, there is an argument that sees FGM as a barbaric tradition, with debilitating physical, psychological, and sexual implications, that should be overridden by law. Another strand of argument sees the practice as a violation of basic human rights.

In South Australia, for example, the law says it is illegal to “aid, abet, counsel or procure a person to perform female circumcision or FGM on a woman , girl or female baby”.

This means it is against the spirit of the law to help someone circumcise a woman, girl or female baby (or get someone else to do the same thing).

Furthermore, the legislation preventing FGM in South Australia was enacted on the 26th April 1997. Under this legislation, a person who intentionally performs, arranges, or assists female genital mutilation on a person is guilty of a serious offence with a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment.

Meanwhile, emphasis is on effective education program for the prevention of female genital mutilation, and not punishment per se.

Thus, at the time of writing, there is a public health agreement funding for 5 men and 28 women to work as facilitators of the program in the emerging communities, and also helping the mainstream society come to terms with the implications of the FGM; issues the wider society does not fully understand.